Ep.12 How To Become A Professional Landscaper - Matthew Lunn (LIAWA)

You're on the plants grow here podcast. I'm Daniel Fuller. Come along with me as we enter a hidden world of deep horticultural, ecological and landscape gardening knowledge with featured experts, industry professionals, and enthusiasts. This episode is titled How to Become a Professional landscaper. And I'd like to point out that that's actually quite different to being an ordinary landscaper. If there's one person who can help us understand this crucial difference. It's Matthew lunn, who's the CEO of the nursery and garden industry of WA, as well as the executive officer for the landscape Industry Association of WA. He's worked for Curtin University and the uni of WA as well as having been a successful landscape business owner in his own right. Welcome to the show, Matt. Thanks,
Daniel. Great to be on. Yeah,
it's gonna be awesome. you're originally from the UK, but you've called Australia home for some time now. How has Perth changed since you arrived in 1994?
Gosh, I remember getting off the plane in Perth and coming down the freeway and looking at these vast areas of buildings and new suburbs going up and palm trees and white sand and I wonder what I've come to how could anything grow here. And Perth has changed remarkably, since those early days in 1994. We've seen a great growth in new new housing, and a change in the landscape seeing too but straightaway, the first thing was just this vastness when I came to Perth and how people garden here. Huge change from England, who's changed from the green, the green capital of gardening in London.
And that's because of the different conditions in Western Australia. Is that right?
Yeah, partly, I think more More recently, everyone's Well, not more recently, in the last sort of 20 odd years, we've become much more realistic about how much water we were really wasting on our gardens. I remember when I first came, people were watering twice a day, seven, seven days a week, the retexe system was almost on all the time. And now we've got restrictions in place. And in fact, the gardens are better for that. We're not wasting not just water. We're not polluting our waterways with unnecessary minerals going and runoff from fertilizers. So we're, we're being much more sustainable, and we're understanding better, that we should be growing gardens, choosing the right plants, the right saws, etc, with what we've got don't work against it. And I think that philosophy really has changed since you know, 2020, or most now we're in much more in that. So sorry, since 2000. It's a different philosophy.
And you mentioned waterwise there. So before people were watering sort of twice a day. But what does that term waterways actually mean? And how can landscape gardeners practically be more water wise?
Well, water wise is really that you've got plants that are sustainable, they can last, you're not going to have to keep giving them steroids of water and fertilizer to keep them alive. And you know, here in West Australia, we've got one of the great floors of the world. And we just haven't been really utilizing it within our gardens. Thankfully, nurseries have developed breeds, which can grow in smaller space gardens. Of course, back when I came in 1994, we had a lot of quarter acre block gardens, the traditional lemon tree and the hills hoist was always seen in there. But now as these guns got smaller, now we've got smaller courtyard space, we've got more shade, we're having to understand the type of plants we use. But we're now starting to realize that if we want to be sustainable use what we term as a water wise plant apart that can sustain the climate, the soils that we have here, we need to use those that are adapted to the to our environment. And we've got, as I said, one of the great floors of the world. Let's let's use it,
right, it's just that old chestnut of plant the right plant in the right place.
absolutely spot on Daniel,
and that just keeps coming up in this podcast.
And it always will do and I think it's because probably back in the 90s and certainly Perth has seen a change in there was only 800,000 people lived in Perth when I first came here or Western Australia. And those that came into Perth or Western Australia were perhaps from Europe, and had that English style almost approach garden box hedges, plants that needed to drink water, whereas now we're educating. we're educating those who have come from other countries that there are other ways to to garden and Perth has its own gardening climate, so we need to work with it. Yeah, I
couldn't agree more. I'd like to talk a little bit more about some of the conditions when you first arrived here. We hear the term urban sprawl. But what exactly does that term mean and how is it affected the gardens in Perth.
As I said earlier, Daniel, the quarter acre block was very much in its existence when I first came in 94. And now we're starting to see those spaces broken down into smaller spaces and therefore the gardens are smaller. So as urban sprawl is starting to move out from the center. Perth and moving as we're seeing up to places like ginger lap and further up to Quinns rocks and further up north, those gardens are getting smaller and smaller. We're seeing devastation with some of the mature trees that perhaps were there now are being removed for development. And as we go towards the south, what used to be sleepy towns and mandra are now becoming secondary cities to Perth. And we'll go further still down to places like Bamberg. And that means we're cutting through our landscape, removing existing environments, which we have removal of trees, obviously, affecting the water tables, the use of water in those particular areas, changes in soils, and we're now seeing urban sprawl really spreading through which, you know, is always going to happen in many cases, but we just need to make sure that we understand our urban or urban greening, and the maintenance of green spaces for people to live in. So it's just doesn't become this concrete city and we get this massive heat island effect.
What was landscaping like in 1994, when you first arrived and what were the customers perceptions of a landscaper?
I think they use the term still today cowboy, cowboy boots. Look, I think because Perth traditionally in Western Australia traditionally has been based on a couple of major economies. One is mining and the second one is agriculture. Those brought wealth into the state and meant that a lot of workforce tended to move into those particular areas. And landscaping wasn't really top of the list. And when of course coming from England where traditionally horticulture is one of the top leisure activities and training and schools and education and colleges to come here and find very small tastes. Very few students attending to do these types of quarters horticulture is fairly small. So landscaping therefore didn't have any guts to it. And but that's changed that has changed. And that's the good good news now, the public a Perth of people the population Perth now understand that a garden is part of the home. And as outdoor living becomes more and more vital a part of our living experience, the landscape scene has therefore changed. So what we saw back in those early 90s, has changed into more of a profession. And instead of employing someone who perhaps worked off the back of a ute, they now actually want to employ someone who understands things like design, I remember when I came from London and talked about setting up a landscape design business people looked at me as if I was mad because you don't really pay pay for a plumber or an electrician to come to your home. But you would pay for a garden designer to come in.
And as you say that's actually a kind of a part of the home the landscape isn't in it plays a huge role in property prices, let alone just the well being of your family.
Absolutely. And I think we can't we have to thank the media for really aspiring those who live in homes to create that outdoor living space programs like Better Homes and Gardens have done that. And of course, gardening Australia has made us much more aware of the planet and the green, the green in our lives. But if we go back to people like john Burke, I remember when I first came Tombow it used to be on a Friday night and out the bat with Don and all those things was that sort of earliest version. But programs like Better Homes and Gardens has gone a long way to show people the opportunities they have in creating more of their home outside bringing the outside in and the inside out. But most importantly, it actually puts value on your property, street curb appearance. All those things are important. Now people understand that very clearly. And since COVID, more importantly, Daniel, we've seen that the green space is actually has a huge impact on us in terms of our mental health. Oh, absolutely.
In lockdown here, I think a lot of people would actually be really quite lost with that they walk around in parks and gardens and just even their own landscape gardens at home. I think nature whether it's in your garden or in the park is just huge.
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
So can you explain to me, like what does a professional landscaper look like in 2020? When compared to someone who's not quite as professional?
It's funny you asked that question. I was at a landscape Association Board meeting last night and we were talking about the profession and raising the bar and raising the standards. And it's funny that one of the items we're talking about is having a master landscapers program and we were just talking as a generally about how that might work, how we might have this accreditation as endorsed program, and it put top of the list customer service. The change now is that to be a professional landscape for the future is to have those people skills to understand how your business works, to understand how a network works, and also understand about contract management. understand about what's right what's wrong, understand about looking after the environment, the space that you're working in, you know, they're not going to rock up on the back end of a ute in a pet Pair pair of Ugg boots and a T shirts with I love sex on it anymore. No, we've got someone out there now Who, who, who actually looks professional going out into the industry, you've got to remember to Daniel that some of those landscapers who work out there, and some very big Becky's, or they get some very good contracts. And that means the consumer is actually investing a large amount of money into that individual business to deliver something for them. So there is a higher expectation now out there in the public arena, to have people who are experienced, qualified, and do have proper contracts when they're out there working.
Can you tell me a little bit more about what do you mean, when you say professional contracts? Well,
you'd be surprised to learn that Daniel, part of my work is actually speaking to to members of the public who have conflict with perhaps a landscaper, they've engaged and there's an issue with the work that they've done. It's not it's substandard. And they want to know where they can go to for advice in getting that work rectified. And so the first question I will always ask Daniel is did you have a formal contract with your landscaper, and a lot of the time they haven't it's been emails, it's been something written on a piece of paper rather than a formal signed contract, which clearly stipulates the work that's going to be done the work the scope of works, if work needs rectifying clauses within it, timeframes, payment, payments, you'll be surprised Daniel to that. Too often, landscapers think they're entitled to X amount of money when they start a job where in fact they're only allowed y amount of money. So we're going to need to through contract good contract management engage the public and understanding exactly. When they engage someone from the landscape industry, what are the expectations in terms of contractual agreements. And of course, while we still do have those out there doing cash work, perhaps paying staff for cash, etc, we don't have a level playing field. So contract management will go a long way, by hopefully enforcing those people who engage people from the landscape industry to actually work with professional landscapers who have proper contracts in place, and therefore, there is some form of warranty on that landscape. You'll be surprised to know how many times that a bit of paving does crack after a few months because of settling. What what what, what where does the customer go does is there any full full back. So that's where I'm going with that contract. It's an important part of a professional landscaper of the future. And insurance, of course, is to
just a little bit of risk mitigation can go so far.
They can do can do indeed,
We touched briefly on this before. But I'd like to go into a little bit more depth about what sort of skills and knowledge in your opinion is absolutely essential for a professional landscaper in 2020. To have
2020, they must have passion, they must have passion more than anything else, because if they got passion, and they're committed, then they will see the whole thing through. And that's not just their individual landscape work they're doing but their business as well. So they've got to be very business minded, they got to be savvy, they got to be innovative. I think it's so critical in this day and age that you don't get caught up by boring landscapes, as I call it, where you look at perhaps something that's done on TV or read in a magazine or looked online and seeing and just trying to copy that someone who's a good landscape and one for the future, is someone who thinks outside the box has very good plot knowledge as well. We see very few landscapers who have that ability to group and select plots. And in many cases, that's not their fault. Because we have a huge problem here in Perth, have wider varieties of plants available or available plants to the landscaper, we have a good selection. But having those extra extra things that really pull a landscape together, which people would not expect to see is often limited. And there are issues here with getting plants. But more than more than everything, as I said to you right from the beginning is having that training, they should have some formal training. The tapes here office are very good certificates and then diplomas. So they should have a very good grounding in understanding the investment from soil, understanding how plants grow, and then the construction phase as well. And as we move forward, many businesses outgrow themselves very quickly from being a maintenance business to then doing a little bit of landscaping, they then should have some very good project management skills because they know in this day and age, the days of employing people full time have gone by the wayside. In many cases, people are on contract. So you need to have a good understanding of contract management and being a good leader of a team. So those are some of the skills that I always think but right from the start, they got to have that enthusiasm and wanting wanting to work outside.
Absolutely. You mentioned TAFE as one of the places that landscape is gonna require a bit of knowledge, but are there any other places that we can learn?
Look, I think online, obviously there's a lot of information floating around online but I don't think you can beat face to face. I think that's really, really important. Of course, universities run various courses. But it's that starting that that entry level Daniel, I mean, I've even talking to high schools that here in Perth where they're starting to level to heart, and that's the grassroots level. So it's beginning there and making their way up. And then if you do belong to associations lightly our the landscape Industry Association here NWA, we then provide ongoing professional development. So it's almost a journey, you started your taper you start at school and assert to you then decide to go into landscaping, perhaps as a profession, you can go to TAFE, and do various courses, always along the line, Daniel, building up that plant knowledge building up your network, and then you could perhaps join a professional association like ours, and then you can go on to that next level of networking at a high level, but also still getting some of that professional development. Absolutely.
So we've touched on a couple of benefits of being a member of an association there, we kind of talked about a bit of the community and the networking as well as sort of upskilling yourself. But are there any other benefits for a professional landscaper to join an association?
Well, without doubt, we saw this when COVID came his advocacy. It's part of the work that I do here, working with the state government, the buildings commission, I work very closely with them. As I suggested earlier, Daniel, when we were talking about accreditation, and lifting the standards within our industry, with landscapers in the net, and then becoming certified or credited that advocacy work is critical. And I've I'm constantly working with the Minister for commerce and discussing openly how we can take the industry forward in terms of some form of certification, accreditation, so advocacy on their, on their behalf. As you said, it's critical those engagements and networking and meeting people at be surprised that you might go to a function meter and other landscapers, he may suggest you use a different supplier or a different product. And before you know it, you've saved probably your membership money in those few seconds of meeting that person. But I think more than anything, Daniel that when people ask about joining, they want that profession, they want to be acknowledged that what they're doing, they do well, many landscapers live a lonely life when they work on their own. And I've experienced that myself when I first started out, you know, you go out on your own day in day out and you wonder, actually, are you doing a good job? Or be you know, do you want to continue doing what what you're doing so it can be very soul destroying. So by belonging to an association, you become part of a community, you become part of that sounding board for your own business. And so I use the word professionalism comes into place, and many of our members, of course, what that logo, they want that endorsement. So that's a key part of our work. And as I said to you, the master landscapers program is going to be our next real push forward to show our members and show the public that out there, we do have a professional body.
So there's a lot of benefits to being a landscaper being a part of an industry association. But what are the benefits of a customer choosing member?
Well, I think it's it's a bit like a warranty, isn't it? You you would hope that all our members as an example where members join laowa, there are two critical things that we will three I should say that are critical in joining. First of all, obviously, they need an ABN number, but I like to know they've got insurance cover. And thirdly, I do like to know that they've got a contract in place that they use for any works, that they do any scope of works or any projects that they carry out. So it's almost that we have a check already on them in a nice way. And I meet many who want to join who don't have one or two of those areas. And immediately they're straight on to me, we're understanding that they need to do those things. We have some people who fall into our industry who haven't been to TAFE. So I see us as an important part of capturing those people and showing them the right career pathway or the wired the right way from a business pathway to go forward. So that's the critical thing at that early stages when we meet them, when sure they have those two or three things in place to go forward. So when a customer or a member of the public employ a member of the laowa, someone who is a member, they know straight away that they got the critical things in place to be engaged to do work for them.
Definitely our have a website and what can prospective customers and members learn from visiting that website?
There we do. It was something we put in place about 12 months ago, we revisited our existing website. And I wanted to make it certainly something that was very customer focused so that members of the public can go into the Finder landscape, find a professional find a supplier to so we've got a good database there for the public to go in and find a member in their area.
And I'd like to know some of your proudest achievements since taking over the association in 2018.
I think I think coming from the UK, I was very lucky to be involved with the brush Association landscape industries barley, and I always knew that they were almost my benchmarks of where I thought they are working Forget to, I think they are words now on a very good pathway, its journey has got a still a long way to go, its membership has increased by nearly 15 to 20%. In the first few years, our sponsorship has grown, of course, with that it comes hand in hand. But I think more than anything is that there's a belief as a belief among the members, there's a belief amongst those who are non members who I meet, that we need an industry, we need a body, that is going to be the force going forward, the peak body. And I feel proud to think that I initiated that back in 218, of course, the association goes back to 1979. And, of course, some great work has been done in those periods. But it was almost I had to come back in and show them the new, the new, the new, like the new journey. And I feel very, very proud that they come on board. Last night, we had eight board members sitting around a table nearly 1819 months ago, there are only two or three. So you can see quickly how it's all changed.
I think that's awesome. I know that Ben really speaks so highly of everything that Leon has been doing lately. And I think that's just so great, because your professionalism in the industry is just huge. I mean, especially if you're part of a membership of a group, you really want that group to be really shining. Well,
if you're going to achieve accreditation, if you're going to achieve some form of endorsement from the public to who recognize you, you've got to be a numbers. And the way we're developing the way we're shaping things the way we are actually taking a bit of time on certain areas like the master landscape, we're not just running at it and thinking we can just do this overnight. We're really looking at it closely. I think it's going to give us solid foundations. Well well beyond my lifetime and and hopefully 50 100 years time someone will remember that, you know, there was a team behind it that really drove it not my name will be there somewhere in the mix.
Yeah, absolutely. So what does your vision look like for 2020? And beyond? What does the future hold fully our
heart, our main focus, again, is to continue to get to at the grassroots level for those landscapers who are looking for support, who are looking for someone to align with and give them support tech advice. So we're certainly reaching out to those players, for our own existing members. We want to increase the quality of our events, that's always critical. We've got for example, in middle of November, our first trade evening are an opportunity for our sponsors to meet face to face with our members. But more importantly, for our members, again, to be engaged with those who are supporting the industry with new advances in areas like irrigation turf, we've got to keep our members up to date. So making sure the events we put on aren't just a social event, but also at the same time giving some form of educational value, so that they feel they're constantly getting something from their membership. We are also going to be developing our new magazine, we produce a weekly, almost like a little bulletin, a news landscape weekly, which is sort of just pepping everyone up each Thursday morning, it comes out just to let them know what's what we're up to what's coming up, we'll be producing a quarterly magazine, which will be much more detailed and giving information internationally, I want to make sure that we are abreast with some of the movements, landscape wise, internationally, and also from some of our state neighbors, what's happening across Australia. So the magazine is once again to be innovative and educational. And that'll be our next big push going forward into 2021.
That sounds awesome. So what are some of the cultural and technological advances that are changing the whole industry and associations from how they used to be back in the day?
I think I think COVID suddenly, we all understood about zoom a lot better. And, and the ability to actually create an event where we can put 100 to 200 people all together than having to hire a facility and trying to get everyone to join or come from different places. We have a particular West, Australia's a large state. So we have this ability now to put things on where people can join and not feel they're being pulled away from their working day life. I think just as importantly, we're seeing sort of more more innovation in terms of products that people are starting to reach out and try and use again. So yeah, I think more than anything, definitely that use of the zoom and things things like that been really, really positive.
Absolutely. And I think podcasts are pretty cool, too.
Yes, podcasts are shameless plug. podcasts are called. Yeah, look, I think the ability ability to play a podcast in a car when people are often short of time, I think is a great, great, great stuff. Well, it's
totally different to a radio program to because a podcast is kind of a micro medium where people can really search for what they really interested in. Whereas maybe back in the day, you just have radio where you'd see sort of, you're only able to pick up what people were sending out.
Yeah, it's almost you're now able to edit what You want to really listen to, which in many ways is I think we become very stereotype. Whereas before you might listen to something that you weren't or what, you know, you might be listened to particular radio show waiting for the gardening show to come on. And there's an advert or this pre story before and you say, Oh, that's interesting, but you wouldn't normally listen to. So we just got to make sure we don't just go down the same path of what we want to listen to. But no, it is brilliant. It means that we're potentially have been able to listen to a an edition of one of your podcasts, you've got that option to listen to it later in the evening outside work as
well. That's huge, isn't it? Hmm. So is there anything else you'd like to tell our listeners about before we wrap this episode up?
Well, look, I
think we're very, very lucky through COVID in many ways that the horticultural and the nursery industry have benefited. And I hate to use that word benefit, benefited because a number of people have lost jobs industries have gone, we've seen that particularly in event management and also in hospitality. Thankfully, here in Western Australia, we've been blessed. We've dodged the biggest bullet ever. But in many ways, what it has done is it's shown the people of Western Australia that the garden is part of their lives, plants are part of their lives, we're seeing people spending vast amounts of money on indoor plants, we're seeing people spending vast amounts of money on greening the external source around their properties. We're seeing real value going back into the industry and we're actually seeing maybe for the better or the worse, people actually having a go themselves DIY in landscapes, which for the industry can be a worry, because often that might mean some of the smaller landscapers don't get work, but at the same time, when mistakes happen, then landscapers do then get brought in to resolve those issues. But more importantly, horticulture has been the winner for the industry. Here in western US Well, one of the winning industries without a doubt. And when you see some of our big supply with some of our big retailers like bannings clearing like they did in April, vegetable seedlings in less than 25 to 30 minutes, which normally would take four or five days, there was just a mass hysteria of plant buying, and people wanting to buy plants now a lot of them had no idea I think what they were buying Daniel, some of them were planting things which were totally inappropriate like tomatoes in the middle of winter. But that is all part of horticulture. It's all part of the learning of planting that seed watching it grow. Watching it flower, maybe watching it die. That's how you get green fingers. And that's what I think is the future and people are green is good. And green will continue to be good in our lives. Absolutely. Thank
you so much for coming on. Matt, what an incredible episode.
Yeah, great stuff. Daniel, hopefully speak again.
Well, there you have it, folks. I hope you've learned a lot about being a professional landscaper, as opposed to being an ordinary one. joining an industry association is a great place to start. And if you're in w A, are currently our seems like a pretty exciting one to join. Check out the show notes for a bunch of links showing you where to go next. There's a little bit of an element of common sense here as well. It's quite hard to look like a professional if you've got rips and tears olevia uniform, or you're lacking some of those logos on the uniform and on the vehicles. get educated so you actually know what you're supposed to be doing. And get in the practice of providing excellent customer service so that you can hopefully get some of those referrals. Learn about branding and marketing, including making yourself a top notch website with some excellent SEO because that's going to help you learn more customers as well.

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